MH370 forces further revision of recorder strategy

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Failure to locate the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 has resulted in a further reinforcement of European proposals to increase flight recorder capabilities and aid aircraft detection.

The European Aviation Safety Agency is to demand that cockpit-voice recorders have a minimum duration of 20h, up from the 15h originally put forward in last year’s proposed revision.

EASA is also accelerating, by two years, the schedule to install flight recorders with long-duration underwater locator beacons.

It has been looking to increase the capability of flight recorders, as well as the probability of their being located in deep water, since the loss of Air France flight AF447 in June 2009.

But the disappearance of flight MH370 on 8 March resulted in a rethink on whether the original proposal, disclosed in December last year, was adequate.

EASA’s initial intention to increase the cockpit-voice recorder duration from 2h to 15h has been amended to extend the minimum time to 20h, after concerns that a 15h limit would not be able to accommodate ultra-long-range flights.

In a formal opinion, EASA acknowledges that such flights “only represent a small percentage” of services, but it says the change will allow the entirety of a flight to be captured and give “sufficient” margin to preserve the recording.

As a result of the amendment, EASA is to prolong the compliance schedule by two years. One year is being achieved by advancing the publication of its formal opinion while the applicability date is being pushed back by 12 months to the beginning of 2020.

EASA had also proposed a 2020 timeframe for the installation of 90-day underwater locator beacons on flight recorders, but is bringing this deadline forward to 2018.

The frustrating effort to locate MH370 has “highlighted once again” that the 30-day requirement for locator beacons is an “insufficient transmission time” given the long operating range of commercial aircraft, says EASA.

MH370’s loss has also led EASA to broaden a mandate to carry low-frequency 8.8kHz underwater beacons. Only large commercial aircraft built from 2005 would have needed these beacons – to reduce retrofit costs – but EASA’s new opinion instead states that they must be fitted “irrespective” of the aircraft’s date of manufacture.